The firing of Mike Rice as head men’s basketball coach at Rutgers University last week, and the leadership fallout that ensued, illustrates a challenge that many athletic departments seem hard-pressed to solve: Who’s in charge of sports?
In the case of Rutgers, the university appeared to have too many cooks in the kitchen, which partly explains its failure to fire Mr. Rice for repeatedly physically and verbally abusing players. The broader failure here is that few programs foster an environment in which athletic directors have the authority to act.
Tim Pernetti, who resigned as the university’s athletic director on Friday, said he wanted to fire the coach last year after viewing a video of him kicking, shoving, and screaming at players. Instead, he said, a bunch of lawyers and human-resources people got involved, the university commissioned an independent report, and Mr. Rice was allowed to stay.
It’s unclear who made the call to keep the coach around. In a statement, Mr. Pernetti put it on the group: “The consensus,” he said, “was that university policy would not justify dismissal.”
In a news conference on Friday, Robert L. Barchi, the Rutgers president, said the breakdown was a “failure of process.” But he ultimately pointed his finger at Mr. Pernetti, who he said could have been more forceful in pushing to get rid of the coach. On Monday, Dr. Barchi announced the university would hire an independent investigator to review the handling of the case.
Mr. Rice’s contract spells out the athletic director’s responsibility to evaluate behavior that, in his judgment, could bring shame or disgrace to the university.
But insiders say there’s often a big difference between having the responsibility to act and being given the authority to do so.
“You may have the title but not the power,” one top administrator with ties to Rutgers told me this past weekend. “In many places, there’s a failure of alignment between responsibility and authority.”...